Israel Museum in Jerusalem
As I always say: come early. We did not follow this rule (due to morning errands) and regretted. Inside Israel Museum, we did not feel the number of people, but parking was quite problematic. After waiting in line to the museum parking for about 20 minutes, I made a u-turn and parked next to the museum’s rear entrance (Nakhman Avigad and Avraham Granot streets). There is plenty of free parking there, and it is only 10-15 min walk.
Map of the area:
Israel Museum is not massive, but quite large. You can easily spend a whole day there. Here is its plan of the complex:
The entrance is in the bottom left corner (next to the arrow and #1). Then you can see the galleries (orange, blue navy, turquoise, and purple). And in the bottom part, you can see the park with sculptures, Shrine of the Book (#16 and #17) and Second Temple Model (#19).
Entrance fee is 54 NIS per adult and 39 NIS per student (last updated in October 2018). You can buy tickets in advance and skip the line. You can purchase them either on the official site or here (and I will get a small commission). The price of the entrance ticket also includes an audio guide (available in different languages). And there are also free tours from time to time.
Opening hours according to the official site are:
Sun, Mon, Wed, Thur, Sat and Holidays: 10 am – 5 pm
Tues 4 pm – 9 pm
Fri and Holiday Eves: 10 am – 2 pm
A Brief History of Humankind
This exhibition, inspired by Yuval Noah Harari’s bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, invites the public to a journey exploring some of the crucial moments in the history of humankind through pivotal objects from the Museum’s encyclopedic collections. Spanning a timeline of hundreds of thousands of years, the items on view include archaeological objects dating to the dawn of civilization shown side-by-side with cutting-edge works of contemporary art.
The exhibition’s narrative, articulated as three major chapters, revolves around three significant turning points in the evolution of human civilization. The Cognitive Revolution — the advent of language and communication, which enabled Homo sapiens to survive and form complex societies. The Agricultural Revolution — humanity’s first steps towards the evolution of settled civilization, laying the foundations for modern society. And the Industrial Revolution — a time of rapid scientific and technological developments that ushered in the contemporary era.
A group of divers from the diving club in the harbor reported the find to the Antiquities Authority. Officials from Antiquities Authority then went with the divers to the location with a metal detector and uncovered almost 2,000 gold coins from the Fatimid period (11th century CE) in various denominations: dinars, half dinars, and quarter dinars, of various dimensions and weight.
Note: all quotes, unless stated otherwise were taken from the official site.
The divers found this treasure quite recently, in Feb 2015.
Engraved horse on Limestone (Hayonim Cave, Upper Palaeolithic):
A human figure, early Natufian culture, 14,000 years ago:
Goddess statue (Pottery Neolithic Clay):
The hoard of 429 ritual objects was discovered in a remote cave in the Judean desert. It was named the Cave of the Treasure. These are some of the treasures:
Small human figures:
Can you guess why this pottery is hanging?
It is an old churn. Since it was hanging, it was easy to rock it from side to side. And it was used to prepare the butter.
Donkeys carry goods:
Findings from Hazor:
For more info about this city check Tel Hazor post.
The open-mouthed fish was a burial gift. Its face and the inside of its mouth are decorated with punctation and engraving.
I Placed My Name There
This is the only complete version of the earliest and longest inscription of Tukulti-Ninurta I (ca. 1241 – 1206 BCE), a fascinating Assyrian monarch whose figure and name, “my trust is in (the god) Ninurta”, may have been the inspiration for the biblical Nimrod (Genesis 10:8-12). The stele was probably placed in a wall of the building the construction of which it commemorates: the new palace that the king built in Assur, Assyria’s capital.
Despite its primary purpose as a foundation record, much of the inscription narrates the king’s first military successes. The text concludes with blessings on the future king expected to maintain the building and the inscription itself, followed by curses upon any ruler who might eradicate the building and its builder’s name.
Assyrian Wall Relief
Wall relief depicting a stylized date palm flanked by protective genies (Nimrud, Assyria; Reign of Ashurnasirpal II, 883-859 BCE):
This wall relief is quite large (height: 157 cm, width: 203 cm and diam: 1.7 cm) and very impressive. Here is additional info about it:
A stylized date-palm tree flanked by two winged human-headed genies appears on many wall slabs decorating the North-West Palace of King Ashurnasirpal II, built in his newly founded capital, Nimrud. The numerous repetitions of this pictorial theme throughout the royal buildings testify to the significance of the scene, despite the lack of related written sources. The motif of a tree with two genies may be a symbolic representation of the pollination of date palms, implying the bestowal of abundance on the entire kingdom.
Three aspects of this slab are of special interest: its relatively small size, its twenty-six-line cuneiform Standard Inscription (most of which tells of the territorial expansion of Assyria) stretching from shoulder to mid-calf, and its large signs. Although the exact original placement of the slab is unknown, the evidence suggests that it originated either in the east wing of the North-West Palace or the Temple of Ninurta north of it, both probably dated early in the building process of Nimrud.
Heated bath from Herod’s Palace in Herodium:
The Battle of Lachish
This relief provides a realistic depiction of the conquest of Lachish in 701 BCE. It graced the walls of an entire hall in the palace of King Sennacherib at Nineveh, underscoring the significance of this victory from the Assyrian perspective.
On the left, the Assyrian soldiers, armed from head to toe, attack the city, aided by a siege ramp and battering ram. Opposite them, the Judahite defenders stand atop the walls, raining arrows, torches, and sling stones down on their attackers. In the center, the Assyrian soldiers impale captives on poles and carry off spoils, while families of Judahite refugees head into exile, their possessions laden on carts. The right side of the relief depicts Sennacherib reviewing the procession of captives and booty. The legend reads: “Sennacherib, King of the World, King of Assyria, sat upon a Nemedu-throne and the spoil from Lachish passed in review before him.”
Original in The British Museum, London
Jewish Art and Life
We’ve finished with archaeology and continued to Wing for Jewish Art and Life. We started with Illuminating the Script – display of rare medieval and Renaissance Hebrew manuscripts.
The Nuremberg Mahzor (Germany, 1331):
One thing that surprised me is the paintings. All these books have many colorful pictures. The modern versions of these books usually do not have arts at all. Maybe it’s because the color was status symbol back then (it was expensive).
Vittorio Veneto Synagogue
The synagogue from which this interior comes stood in the small town of Vittorio Veneto near Venice. For more than two hundred years it served a small local Ashkenazi community, which had been settled in the area since the Middle Ages. Towards the end of the 19th century the Jews moved to larger centers, and by the end of First World War the synagogue was no longer in use.
The original synagogue occupied the second and third stories of a simple building. This modesty was customary in Italy before the Jews were emancipated, the result of local restrictions and the Jews’ own desire to avoid drawing attention to their synagogue. The interior, however, is elegantly designed in typical Italian Baroque style, rather like a reception room in an aristocrat’s palace. Clear examples of this style are the broken pediment of the Torah ark and the shimmering surface of its carved decoration.
The interior plan is typical of Italian bipolar synagogues: they placed the reader’s desk in a niche opposite the Torah ark and benches are set along the long walls facing the center. The women’s section is located on the upper level, running along all four walls and recalling theatre galleries of the time.
In 1965 the interior was transferred in its entirety to the Israel Museum, where it has been faithfully reconstructed. The only alteration has to do with the orientation of the synagogue –: because of building constraints, the Torah ark, originally on the eastern wall nearest to Jerusalem, is now part of the northern wall.
From the 16th century, the Kadavumbagam (“by the side of the landing place“) synagogue stood at the edge of the Jewish neighborhood in the town of Cochin, India, apparently built over the ruins of an even earlier synagogue. Its carved wooden interior came to include an exquisite ceiling featuring motifs like those found in the surrounding mosques and Hindu temples.
According to local tradition, the Jewish community of Cochin is approximately two thousand years old. It started out in Cranganore (Shingly) on the southwest coast of India and relocated to Cochin and nearby towns in the 14th century. The Kadavumbagam synagogue, built by the veteran community known as Malabaris, was one of eight temples in this area.
A unique feature of Cochin synagogues is the presence of two reader’s platforms: one, used on Sabbath and holidays, is located on the gallery, in front of the women’s section and separated from it by a grill. Prayers used the other stands in the center of the hall for daily praying. The synagogue was oriented northwest, toward Jerusalem. Wooden benches were ranged around the lower reader’s platform and adjacent to the walls. They covered the floor with carpets or mats on which worshipers walked barefoot.
In the early 1950s, most Cochin Jews immigrated to Israel, and the Kadavumbagam synagogue Torah ark was transferred to Moshav Nehalim. The building, used as a workshop for the production of ropes, was in danger of being demolished. In 1991 synagogue interior was purchased for the Israel Museum and brought to Jerusalem for restoration and reconstruction.
Kadavumbagam Synagogue is unique. First of all, it is from India, and I had no idea there were ancient synagogues in India. And secondly, I’ve never seen the wooden interior in temples.
Synagogue From Suriname
Founded in Paramaribo, the capital city of Suriname, in 1736, the Tzedek ve-Shalom synagogue is a typical example of Spanish and Portuguese synagogues in the New World.
The Republic of Suriname is a tropical country situated on the northern coast of South America, just above Brazil. In the mid-17th century Jews of Spanish and Portuguese origin, who had fled to Holland during the Inquisition, were among the early European settlers in Suriname. They established sugarcane plantations along the Suriname River, to which they gave biblical names, and founded a village in the Savanna, which they called “Jerusalem on the Riverside.” Also referred to as the Jewish Savanna, it became the center of this remote colony until the middle of the 18th century, when most of the Jews moved to Paramaribo.
Tzedek ve-Shalom Synagogue Architecture
Formerly situated in the middle of a large courtyard, the Tzedek ve-Shalom synagogue is a neoclassical wooden building, rectangular and painted white. Flanked by three arched windows, the central entrance leads to a vast basilica-like hall whose salient features are typical of the Spanish and Portuguese tradition. The reader’s platform (tevah) is located opposite the Torah ark (heikhal). The benches for the congregants run along the walls, facing the center, and among them are more prominent seats dedicated to the leaders of the community (parnassim) and the head of the community. And majestic brass chandeliers of Dutch manufacture, inscribed with the names of the donors who offered them to the synagogue, hang from the ceiling and between the colonnades.
Allied with these features are others which are characteristic of the local, regional architecture, such as the plain, symmetrical structure; the white walls and large windows that invite the sunlight; and the sand-coated floor.
Directly inspired by the Esnoga, the great Portuguese synagogue of Amsterdam, the Tzedek ve-Shalom synagogue reverberates with old memories while embodying novel architectural features. It is a clear reflection of the character of the Jewish community of Suriname – a community that enjoyed relative freedom of worship and took an active part in the life of the surrounding society.
Here is dual functioning jewelry. The apparent function is beauty and status. But the less obvious is what materials were incorporated into this necklace. When touching the skin, this necklace gave off a strong fragrance (that was believed to ward off evils spirits).
Next, we headed to Fine Arts wing. But, it was already quite late, so we did not adequately cover it.
The Shrine of the Book was built as a repository for the first seven scrolls discovered at Qumran in 1947. The unique white dome embodies the lids of the jars in which the first scrolls were found. This symbolic building, a kind of sanctuary intended to express profound spiritual meaning, is considered an international landmark of modern architecture. Designed by American Jewish architects Armand P. Bartos and Frederic J. Kiesler, it was dedicated in an impressive ceremony on April 20, 1965.
Its location next to official institutions of the State of Israel—the Knesset (Israeli Parliament), principal government offices, and the Jewish National and University Library—is appropriate considering the degree of national importance that has been accorded the ancient texts and the building that preserves them.
The contrast between the white dome and the black wall alongside it alludes to the tension evident in the scrolls between the spiritual world of the “Sons of Light” (as the Judean Desert sectarians called themselves) and the “Sons of Darkness” (the sect’s enemies). The corridor leading into the Shrine resembles a cave, recalling the site where the ancient manuscripts were discovered.
When Shrine of the Book opened, you could see the original scrolls. But, since the manuscripts can be damaged by light and humidity, they were stored in a safe place. Today, you can see only one original page (each period a different page), and all the rest are replicas.
Besides the scrolls, there are many related exhibits, and you can easily spend an hour inside.
Note: photography inside Shrine of the Book is prohibited.
On the occasion of the Museum’s 50th anniversary, a new exhibition space in the Shrine of the Book is inaugurated with this display of a cutting-edge version of the Bible – a gilt nano chip the size of a sugar grain, on which the entire Bible is inscribed. Illustrating the power of nanotechnology, this high-tech miracle was created in the laboratories of Haifa’s Technion Institute by means of a technique recalling stone engraving. The text engraved on the chip needs to be magnified 10,000 times in order to be legible. The exhibition takes the Book of Books on a journey from antiquity to the present – from the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls to the 21st-century Nano Bible.
Second Temple Model
This 50:1 scale model, covering nearly one acre, evokes ancient Jerusalem at its peak, meticulously recreating its topography and architectural character in 66 CE, the year in which the Great Revolt against the Romans broke out, leading to the destruction of the Temple and the city in the year 70 CE.
The model, a Jerusalem cultural landmark, was originally built at the initiative of Holyland Hotel owner Hans Kroch in memory of his son Jacob, who fell in Israel’s War of Independence. Kroch argued that Israel in general, and in particular its capital Jerusalem – which was cut off from the Old City at the time – lacked a historical monument that could compare with the antiquities of Athens and Rome.
Old City of Jerusalem At Night
It is late and time to end the day.
Israel Museum in Jerusalem is one of the best and the biggest museums in Israel. If you are going to visit only one museum in Israel, this should probably be it. And if you are interested in archeology, ancient findings or Judaism then this definitely should be it.
Visiting duration will depend on your interests and what is shown in the changing exhibitions area (check out the official site to find out what are the changing exhibition). But, in general, most people will spend from several hours up to a full day.
Have you ever visited the Israel Museum in Jerusalem? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!
For additional points of interest nearby check out Jerusalem page.